Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Bitter With The Sweet

What has a bowl of ice cream to do with life? Both bring you bitter and sweet. At least, they do if you drizzle just a tablespoon or so of the cold-brewed essence of coffee over vanilla and coffee ice cream as we did this week.

The coffee drizzle is so strong that you can hardly stand it straight - bitter as betrayal and strong as Samson - but gentle it down with some really nice ice cream and you have a treat work talking about. It freezes on the ice cream in an icy shell and makes a little puddle of dark pleasure at the bottom of the bowl, to be scraped up at the end when it has mingled with the melting ice cream. One of life's little sweets, to balance the bitter.

Labels: ,

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Secret Ingredient

Are you one who shares their recipes, secret ingredients and all? Or are you the kind who gives your recipe but sneakily leaves out that one addition that makes it great? I recently discovered, almost by accident, a "secret" ingredient - strong coffee.

A few weeks ago, I made cold-brewed coffee and My Beloved and I have been enjoying tall glasses of iced coffee ever since. It's a hit in this household - powerful and smooth, it has jazzed up several sagging afternoons.

Fast forward to last night, when I was making a quick pasta sauce with meatballs. Squeezed Italian sausage out of its casing to brown in a wide skillet, then removed the "meatballs" and sautéed garlic chips, chopped onion and chunked mushrooms in the same pan. Added a 16 ounce can of organic tomato sauce, two fresh chopped tomatoes, a handful of dried herbs (use your imagination) and a big glug of red wine. Simmered for about half an hour, then turned it off and went about my day, returning at dinner time to simmer it again. It was good in that rich and friendly way that Italian food always is, but not spectacular until I added the secret ingredient.

A splash of that crazy-good coffee. The sauce darkened and deepened dramatically, changing from Margaret to Sophia Loren. The coffee also made the sauce just a little too bitter, so I added about two teaspoons of sugar and stirred it all in together. Tossed with some straw and hay fettucine from Eduardo's of San Francisco, it was like love - messy, delightful and lifegiving. Next time you make red sauce, don't forget the secret ingredient.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Just had to show you this. Isn't it beautiful?

I took it out of the freezer, thinking it was a pound of ground beef that I would use to make burgers for dinner. Instead, when it had thawed and I unwrapped it, I remembered buying it at Baron's Meats in Alameda simply because I was charmed by this beautiful little display of the butcher's art.

Inside is a tail of beef filet, cunningly folded and wrapped in woven bacon and tied with string. Fifteen minutes in a 400 degree oven, a ten-minute rest on the counter and you have a perfect, medium rare roast with crispy bacon all around.

The dog went nuts as the aroma of smoky bacon filled the house. We gave her the platter to lick after dinner - we didn't have the heart not to give her a little taste. Must get back to Baron's soon to tell them what a treat it was for us all - and to buy another one.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


While I was out the other day trying to find parts for my ice cream maker, I came across these popsicle molds. I've been meaning to try Ellen Zachos' recipe for Cucumber-Gin-Mint popsicles and I was charmed by the colors, so I bought these instead.

They snap closed so, once filled, the contents won't run out if they tip over in the freezer. The lids make a little cup to catch the melting juice, too.

It's going to be a fun summer. Stand by for a progress report.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Only In California

One of my favorite things about California is the whimsy. People here aren't afraid to be a little nutso, to show their individuality, to act a little silly. Especially when it comes to cars.

Here I was in Davis for the day, enjoying an afternoon of leisurely lunch and warm sunshine with My Beloved in between business appointments for him. We were just in the crosswalk when we heard a ridiculously loud engine that sounded like a Harley with no mufflers coming toward us. Naturally, we looked up to see how imminent was our danger and this is what we saw.

The driver sits almost to the back of the wagon on a cushy seat with the little mahogany steering wheel in front of him. The rest, except for the snazzy wheels, the raked windscreen and the shiny headers emerging from the undercarriage, is exactly correct - only on a grand scale. That's MB standing next to it, so you get an idea of the size.

The driver hopped out and disappeared into a store, seemingly completely unaware of the sensation he was causing, while three couples including us whipped out our cameras. Only in California.

Labels: ,

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hot, Sweet and Sticky

Grilled peaches. One white and one yellow peach. Ripe, sweet peaches, quickly peeled and placed on a hot grill just as the pork tenderloin medallions and whole shallots came out of the pan. A few quick minutes is all it took to stripe them and make them even sweeter, warm and caramelized in spots.

Peaches, pork and shallots. Oh, baby.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Here's the scoop - you can make homemade ice cream in your Donvier ice cream maker, even if you lose one of the most important components.

The dasher.

The thingy that scrapes the now-frozen ice cream base off the side of the maker.

I know, because that's what I did. Don't ask me where it went astray - if I knew that, I wouldn't have had to improvise.

I had made the ice cream base the day before I made this startling discovery, so time was of the essence. I considered just buying a new one, but visiting three stores (one cooking store, one bed-and-bath store and one department store) didn't convince me that I needed to spend anywhere from $30-$100 for an electric ice cream maker and it seems nobody sells these simple, hand-cranked versions any more. I looked at online sources but, unless I wanted to pay as much in postage as the ice cream maker was worth, it wouldn't arrive before the base was fuzz-bearing history.

And so, the improv. After making a few false starts and slopping ice cream base around a little, I perfected my technique. A stiff spatula, using an up-and-down sawing sort of motion will work. As the base freezes to the sides of the maker, you scrape it off every few minutes, reading the paper or staring off into the middle distance in between stirrings. As more and more freezes, the process speeds up a bit - kind of like scrambling eggs when the first several minutes feel like they will never get cooked and the last few seconds you can't get the pan off the heat soon enough.

It took less than 15 minutes of freezing and sawing.
Well worth the effort to produce homemade coffee ice cream that was really quite delicious. I scooped the finished ice cream into a small plastic container and popped it into the freezer to harden up a bit more. I played a little bit with the original recipe, enough to discover that the richer the cream-to-milk ratio, the better the ice cream. I subbed in some half-and-half for cream but, if I was doing it again, I'd go for the full-cream version. I don't expect I'll be doing this very often and, well, in for a pound, right? I'd also add very fine coffee grounds to the base to reduce the sweetness, add a tiny bit of texture and enhance the rich coffee flavor.

Although coffee is my favorite flavor, I'm already planning lighter summer "ices" - such as cantaloupe, strawberry and peach, since the fruit this year has been exceptional. If I find a similar ice cream maker at a garage sale I may replace my lost dasher but it's good to know I can make a reasonable scoop even without it.

Improv Coffee Ice Cream

2-1/2 tsp. freeze-dried coffee powder dissolved in minimal water
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup half-and-half
2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

*About 1 Tbs very finely ground coffee? I didn't try it, but I will next time. You could also fold in some toasted almonds and chocolate syrup after it freezes... *sigh*

Beat eggs and sugar with an electric mixer until thick and cream-colored. Add cream, half-and-half and vanilla. Mix well. Add coffee dissolved in water, mixing well again. Chill thoroughly (6 hours or overnight in refrigerator) before pouring into the ice cream maker. Follow directions for the ice cream maker.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Havabanana Or Three

I don't make banana bread any more, not because I don't like it but because I don't buy bananas any more because bananas come from far, far away and in getting here they consume more carbon than they are worth.

But, My Beloved, being the good guy he is, bought three bananas for a friend who was visiting. When the friend left, he hadn't eaten them and we forgot to give them to him for the road.

So, after many years of no banana bread, I was given a
golden, no-guilt opportunity. I whipped out Mom T's recipe and decided to see if I could improve on it, stellar though it always was.

I added another half cup of walnuts - I like a lot of nuts. And I added some coffee flavor, too, thinking that it would add an exotic depth to the bread. I might have used some of the cold-brewed coffee I made last week but opted this time for freeze-dried coffee dissolved in the smallest amount of water, just to add the flavor without adding much more liquid.

Both additions were, in my view, improvements. While I couldn't taste the coffee itself, it did add dark richness and the nuts - well, in my view, you can never have too many nuts. The result was bumpy and deeply flavored, dense and packed with banana goodness. I think coffee is like bacon - it adds to any dish.

Coffee Banana Bread

1/2 cup oil (I used canola)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup crushed bananas (3 bananas; I crush them with a fork)
1 tsp freeze-dried coffee powder, dissolved in a tiny bit of water
2 cups flour (I use unbleached)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts but I was toying with the idea of macadamias to keep with the tropical theme)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix oil and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and crushed bananas. Mix well. Dissolve coffee powder in minimal water and add to banana mixture. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix well. Add nuts and stir well.

Pour into greased pans, either one large loaf pan or two small ones. Bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour + 15 minutes (less if you use the smaller loaf pans). Test for moisture during the last 15 minutes with a toothpick or cake tester - if it comes out clean, the bread is ready. Remove from pan and cool on a rack.

This bread keeps well at room temperature, well wrapped in plastic. If kept more than a day or two, refrigerate.

Labels: ,

Friday, July 23, 2010

Comfort Food

Bad news at the dentist. Despite having a constant record of high praise from the dental hygienist for the past 30 years, the sins of my youth are coming back to sneer at me. Seems to me that the worst news you can get from a dentist is that the very expensive and painful root canal they did two years ago didn't work and the tooth must now be extracted and an implant put in.


So, today, I went to see the specialist who will do the implant, a handsome, cheerful and chatty young man who assured me that it won't hurt a bit and I'll be pleasantly surprised. Yeah, yeah, that's what they all say; when the root canal was done, the endodontist lifted me right off the chair when he hit a very lively nerve. So much for reassurances.

I left with dread in my heart and the knowledge that all this joy will take about four months and cost about $1,000 per month. Fun, huh? I was in great need of comfort food.

How very appropriate that one of my favorite breakfast places is "Comforts" in San Anselmo. I found a parking place nearby and was given a table right away - things were looking up. A quick scan of the menu revealed their meatloaf hash topped with two eggs. Now, I ask you, what could possibly be more comforting than hash made from meat loaf? I ordered that, with eggs over easy.

The plate was so full I couldn't possibly finish it, but the part I did eat was comfort personified. Deeply homey and sustaining, it was just right for a cloudy day of spitting fog, chilly winds and bad news from the dentist. By the time I left, the fog had lifted and the sun was shining. I put the top down on my car and cruised home feeling much better. I'm still not looking forward to the next few months but at least for the moment I was comforted.

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 22, 2010


My Dad was gifted. He was a fine friend who kept his pals for a lifetime. He was a talented tennis player - the Hawaii state tennis champion in his 70s. An amusing raconteur, he could tell a joke or a story with great panache and an irresistible twinkle - we were often in stitches at the dinner table. He was a beloved leader, admired by most who served with him. He was a voracious reader, devouring newspapers, news and sports magazines, and best sellers at a terrific rate. He was also a sweet and loving soul who couldn't bring himself to spank me even back when spanking was not considered child abuse and even when I richly deserved it. He was also impossible to buy presents for.

Because he wore Navy uniforms to work every day, he didn't need much in the way of new clothes. Like many fathers, there wasn't much he wanted or needed - one push mower sufficed and he could use only so many chamois cloths for washing the car.
To make matters worse, he often went out a week before his birthday to buy the very book I was planning to give him. Or purchase new tennis gear just before Christmas.

That's why I gave him this little ice cream maker for Christmas one year. Since he never cooked anything but scrambled eggs and frozen veggies, I knew he would never use it, but he loved ice cream and, hey, I was desperate. He unwrapped it with excitement (he never lost his boyishness), then looked over at me with a quizzical expression. Ice cream maker? Well, thank you, honey - it's the thought that counts.

I found it tucked 'way back in a kitchen cabinet years later, when we were closing his house after his death. For some reason, it seemed important to keep it. I added it to the sad box of artifacts from his life that I was saving and shipped it home to be unpacked and squirreled away there.

I hadn't thought of it in years when I came across it while looking for something else entirely. I brought it out, washed it thoroughly and put the core into my little freezer. I'm going to try making some ice cream in his memory. Coffee ice cream, his favorite.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Brutti Ma Buoni

Reminded me of the Phantom of the Opera's mask, pallid and somewhat sinister. Or Casper the Friendly Ghost's evil twin. Nothing ugly about the taste, however, and it made a nice change of pace to our normal cold lunches.

A melted sandwich with Swiss cheese, wheatberry toast and tuna salad made with lovely olive-oil packed tuna, celery, green onion, lemon juice and a soupçon of mayo.
Briefly under the broiler until the cheese sags and even browns, if you want.

Brutti ma buoni - ugly but good.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fertilizing Hydrangeas

In the foodie world, trends seem to come and go every few months - crisped prosciutto, duck fat in everything and, now, cold-brewed iced coffee. Of course, it's easy enough to make a few extra cups of coffee in the morning and keep the rest to cool for iced coffee. But, because I have read about cold-brewing at least four times in the past two weeks, I wanted to give it a shot, so to speak.

I took my recipe from the San Francisco Chronicle article by Janny Hu. I added a full pound of coffee grounds to 10 cups of water and let it sit for 12 hours. It's not a pretty process - why are wet coffee grounds so nasty-looking?

After the coffee has steeped, you must strain it to remove the grounds. I did this by lining a strainer with a paper towel, resting the strainer on the top of a pitcher, and ladling the coffee in a bit at a time as the liquid drained into the pitcher. It took quite a while as the coffee grounds quickly clog the "filter," slowing the process to a lazy drip. I was working in the kitchen anyway, so I just got on with my other tasks, returning periodically to monitor the process and refill the strainer.

The result was about nine cups of stand-your-spoon-up-strength concentrate. Don't try drinking this stuff straight - it's lethal! After refrigerating, where it will keep happily for weeks, I added water in about a four-to-one ratio to the coffee concentrate, lots of ice cubes, and half-and-half.

I do love iced coffee and I have to admit this stuff is superior. Robustly flavorful, even when smoothed with cream, it is to me the essence of summer leisure drinking. It's a bit of a nuisance to make but, once made, you have many tall glasses of iced coffee to enjoy without further ado.

The bonus for your garden plants is that you can throw the full pound of wet grounds around the
acid-loving azaleas, camellias or hydrangeas to give them a shot of caffeine as well. Keeps snails and slugs away, as well.

Labels: ,

Monday, July 19, 2010

Corn Dog

Is this where I admit that I made this discovery out of sheer laziness?

I didn't want to wash (or, more precisely, I didn't want My Beloved to have to wash) an extra pan, so I slipped my fresh corn into the same water in which our hot dogs had been boiling for about five minutes. Three minutes later, fished out both and bunned the dog, drained the corn.

It didn't make a huge difference but there was a pleasant little hint of hot dog salt and smoke in my corn. Subtle but fun. Not exactly a corn dog, more like dog corn. A summertime treat, in any case.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Morning Still Life

I don't often make such an elaborate breakfast as this but when you have fruit, juice, eggs and jam that look this pretty together, it's fun to assemble a serious breakfast.

I cut up some cantaloupe, white peaches and plums for a fresh fruit compote that was so sweet it made the orange juice taste tart. Poached a couple of eggs to top the English mushions (as my friend Wendy calls them) and toasted an additional muffin to top with the strawberry jam I made a few weeks ago.

No need for lunch this day - after consuming this still life, I retired from the kitchen until dinner time.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

In A Jam

I've been in a mood lately to make jam. Last month's strawberries made some of the best jam ever. And, last week at the farmer's market, my favorite berry guy had added boysenberries to his offerings - irresistible!

I left the berries out on the counter overnight so My Beloved could have some on his oatmeal in the morning, but they were fragile enough that I didn't dare leave them any longer. I decided to try a new kind of jam.

Boysenberries are very seedy, as you can see, so I decided to strain out the seeds. I didn't really make jelly, as I didn't strain out all the solids, just the seeds. It was somewhat tedious to press all that berry pulp with the back of a ladle through a strainer just fine enough to catch the seeds, but the resulting jam was well worth the effort.

Three little boxes, perhaps 2 or 3 cups of berries before mashing, made just one eight-ounce jar of jam, plus a little blob left over.
I ate some of the leftover on my toast the next morning. It was very firm - clearly, boysenberries have a lot of natural pectin, as I added none. The color is a rich, dark red that stained my wooden spoon permanently. The scent is of ripe berries and, because I use very little sugar, the taste is sweet-tart, just as the fresh berries are.

If the berry man has boysenberries again next week, I'll be tempted to make more jam for gifts; this single jar will last us for months so we don't need more for ourselves, but I can imagine that several friends would welcome a jar of this essence of summer.

Boysenberry Jam (makes 1-8oz jar of jam with seeds removed)

3 baskets ripe boysenberries, mashed (boysenberries come in smaller baskets than strawberries - these were the smaller baskets)
1/2 cup sugar (scant - it's important to taste the mashed berries as you add the sugar a little at a time, to make sure you don't add too much. If the fruit is sweet, add less!)

Mash the berries with a potato masher and pass the pulp through the strainer with holes small enough to catch the seeds, if you wish. (If you leave the seeds in, you will retain more volume and likely you will get 2 or 3 jars of jam.) Discard the seeds. In a pot at least twice as large as the pulp requires, add the sugar and stir to dissolve.

When the sugar has dissolved, bring the pot to a boil over high heat and boil for about 15 minutes. The jam will rise dramatically up the sides of the pot during this process - that's why you need a big pot. When the boiling becomes thick and the bubbles large and shiny, drip a little test onto a cold plate and, after a minute or two, push through it with your finger. If the jam doesn't run back in to cover your finger mark, it's ready.

Follow directions for bottling the jam given on the box of jars or just put it in a clean jar and refrigerate if you plan to use it right away.

Labels: ,

Friday, July 16, 2010

Heavenly Eleven

We so enjoyed our lunch at Murray Circle that when My Beloved was planning our 11th anniversary celebration, he made a reservation there for dinner.

At dinner, they have an intriguing menu, a triptych from which you are encouraged to choose one dish from each of three sides of the menu. I chose green garlic vichyssoise; paper-thin slices of baby abalone with compressed peaches
, crisped prosciutto, vadouvan aioli; and lamb done three ways. Each plate is smallish so you can try all three, but we were still too full for dessert when push came to shove. We smiled and waved away the dessert menu, settling instead for a simple cup of coffee.

A little bird must have told them it was our anniversary (or perhaps it was the prosecco with which we toasted each other that tipped them off) and service like this can't be denied. They brought us a plate of little cubes of peach jelly, chocolate-covered and sugar-dusted macadamia nuts, and housemade caramel corn for dessert, complete with a thin chocolate tuile inscribed with anniversary wishes. All in all, it made for a celestial celebration.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Panned Salmon

Usually, when I buy a nice piece of wild salmon, I either grill or poach. Occasionally, when I'm in the mood and the weather cooperates, I'll plank. But, for some curious reason, I had never tried simply frying salmon in butter.

The idea came to me when I had a taste of salmon confit when we went to Greystone with cousin Jan and her pal Judi. I had never even thought about making confit with salmon - this one was made with clarified butter. One of those memorable bites.

So, with the idea of buttery salmon in mind, I got out my trusty wide frying pan, melted a little pat gently into the bottom, added a few fingerling potatoes and started them cooking for perhaps 10 minutes before sliding in a nice fillet of wild salmon, skin side down. The fish cooked for perhaps 5 minutes before I flipped it; had I been in the mood for crispy-skinned salmon, I could have left it on that side longer. Because I wanted just the fish itself this time, I flipped it after those few minutes and removed the now-loosened skin along with the dark flesh that runs just under the skin.

Continued cooking both little spuds and fish, still on medium-low heat and turning once more, until the spuds were tender when pierced and the raw fish's sponginess gave way to a firmer feel when prodded with a clean finger. It's important not to burn the butter, so watch it carefully - browned butter is good; black butter is bitter. The fish continues to cook a bit even after you remove it, so best to take it off the heat before it becomes too dry.

The resulting fish was my definition of perfect, nicely browned and crispy-buttery on both sides, still moist inside and with the very thickest part still ever-so-slightly rare. And so simple to do - no grill to clean, no weather worries, no big sloppy pan of hot water to discard. Just roll the potatoes onto the plate, add the salmon and a little green veg and you've got dinner. I won't hesitate in the future to pan my salmon.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Eat Dessert First

My S-I-L, Ann, has a saying that I have always enjoyed: "Life is short. Eat dessert first." Needless to say, Ann is one of my favorite people on earth. Needless to say, she is an excellent dessert maker. We should probably have followed her advice when we went to the CIA for lunch.

By the time we had finished off temptations, salad or appetizer and main course, plus bites off each other's plates, we were too full to enjoy one of these dessert samplers by ourselves - our choice was to split it or burst like ripe melons.

Left to right, bite-sized portions of chocolate mousse in a crisp cookie cup, strawberry shortcake with piped whipped cream, caramel nut bar with fudgey bottom, strawberry fro yo in a light-as-thistledown cookie cone, creme fraiche panna cotta, and lemon pastry with a blueberry and a dab of vanilla whipped cream. Shared amongst us four, it was just enough to save us from popping whilst still giving us each a taste of all those flavors.

But, next time, I'm eating dessert first.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Portrait Of A Good Sport

Would you wear a big hat with colorful flaming felt candles on top and "Happy Birthday - Older Than Dirt" emblazoned on the front? In a restaurant? Where the average patron and all the tattooed wait staff were in their 20s? (Our waiter snickered at my bong joke). And keep it on the whole meal through? All the way to the silly little cake decorated with Roman numeral candles?

If not (and I know I wouldn't!), you're not as good a sport as our pal Jack, who not only wore the hat with aplomb but also mugged for the camera shamelessly.

Happy Birthday, Jack. You are living, breathing proof that growing older and growing up are two entirely different things. Please don't ever change.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Bragging to Belgium

About a week ago, cousin Jan had a visit from her pal Judi. Judi lives in Belgium, so she's no stranger to good food - I have heard that tiny Belgium has more Michelin stars than the whole of France. Because we wanted to show her that California has pretty good chow, too, we met them at Greystone for lunch.

Sitting on the terrace in the shade on a warm, Napa Valley afternoon with a light breeze from the vineyards tickling our ankles, we had a lunch to remember. Flights of wine were passed around for trying. Forkfuls of delectables were shared and commented upon. Stories were told. Desserts were shared to much oohing and aahing.

Here's the salad I chose - two colors of sweet watermelon, small cubes of tangy ricotta salata, crisped prosciutto and water cress with slices of
lightly pickled red onion. Something I could easily make at home and will, too, now that I know how very nice watermelon can be in a summer salad.

Bring it on, Belgium!

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 11, 2010


For several evenings recently, we've been enjoying an appetizer of fruit and prosciutto while I make dinner. We are trying all kinds of stone fruits - peaches, nectarines, apricots - but our favorite so far is plums. The dark purple ones with the tangy skin that tickles our taste buds. When wrapped in a ribbon of prosciutto, they are a taste sensation.

If you want to totally gild that lily, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over or dip them in it. Ooh, baby, summer's here and life is goooooood.

Labels: ,

Saturday, July 10, 2010


My Beloved is studly and he doesn't even know it. Women look him over not-so-subtly when we are out in public - he's oblivious. They giggle and blush when he speaks to them and he thinks they are just being nice. They touch him at parties, just lightly, but it's obvious they want their paws on him and one particularly bold one even kissed him on the lips. Even guys sometimes notice his physique and one guy last week remarked about it to him. MB was surprised and a little embarrassed. I really love that about him.

He's also a carnivore. He loves meat. Protein. Flesh. So, every now and then I make meatloaf for him, which calls for at least two kinds of meat. This version was made from half-and-half ground grass-fed beef and ground pork, both from the wonderful new Marin Sun Farms shop at Market Hall in Oakland. (Thank you, MSF, for coming to our side of the bay!). In addition to beef and pork, it was studded with onions, celery, egg, milk and Sartain's Menu sauce for a smoky little kick of heat.

My Beloved loved it. I loved it. It was downright studly.


Friday, July 9, 2010


Now, don't get me wrong - I love chicken - but sometimes I think if I have another roasted chicken, I'll start clucking. Growing feathers. Laying eggs. Eating bugs.

Clearly, I needed a change of pace from my usual oven-roasted bird. Luckily, we've been blessed with great barbecuing weather recently and, when I was cleaning out the garage, I noticed that we still have a few cedar planks left from the huge bundle we bought years ago.

Planked chicken. Perfect! It needed nothing more than a light bath in olive oil and a couple of planks underneath over gray coals with red centers. Fifty minutes later, I lifted it off the now-charred plank, plunked it on a cutting board and called My Beloved to dinner.

If you've never tried planking, this is your year! Go here for some basic instructions. It's truly a great way to cook any number of delicious meats on the grill. Whatever you plank will have a distinctly smoky flavor and retain its moisture. A bonus - no oven to clean - just toss the planks and dust off your hands. And no need to worry about pecking order.

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 8, 2010


I can't recall when I first tasted guacamole. Likely, it was at some Mexican restaurant back in the early '70s while my first husband was at Stanford's business school and his parents had scoped out all the best Mexican restaurants on the peninsula. It was an instant passion for me and I consider myself a connoisseur of good guac.

The best local guac I have found is the heavenly stuff prepared at Las Camelias in San Rafael - hearty, chunky, with a hint of spice and cilantro, they don't stint on the avocado there, nor try to make it go further by adding ersatz ingredients. It personifies the goal toward which all guacamole should be aiming. If you call ahead, they will make it fresh and have it ready for pickup, along with a big brown paper bag of their housemade corn chips. You're welcome.

But we were clear across the bridge from that yummy stuff and had three avocados crying out to be eaten, so I decided to try a homemade version. Scooped the avos into a bowl with chopped ripe tomato and mild onion, a big squeeze of lemon juice and a couple of generous dollops of Hop'n Jalapeno hot sauce.

I didn't include the cilantro because, to me, it tastes like soap.
I'm trying to learn to like cilantro but it's an uphill battle. I call it soapwort and make a face.

Squished it all together with a fork. Opened up a package of thin, lightly salted tortilla chips. Dipped in. While it didn't reach Las Camelias heights, it was pretty darn good.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rushing Summer

I didn't plant any tomatoes this year, discouraged and downcast as I was by last year's meager harvest. And, when I peek over my balcony at my neighbor's flourishing tomato plants, I don't see any ripe fruit yet. Hungry for that ripe tomato taste, however, I went to the market and paid an exorbitant price for several beautifully ripe heirlooms.

They were worth it. Just a dab of mayo or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and you have a feast for lunch. I'm rushing the tomato season. So, sue me.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sardine Sandy

Just before I closed this sardine sandwich, I snapped its picture so you could see just what it was made of. Sourdough baguette, sliced in half and spread with what my friend Pat calls a scrape of mayo. A little lettuce, a slice or two of ripe tomato, a couple of quarters of marinated artichokes nestled between the sardine halves.

Slap it all together and you have a heck of a big bite and an even bigger taste. Next time, I'd just put olive oil, or the oil from the sardine can, on the bread to enhance the fish but it was fine the way it was, richly piscine and tasty.


Monday, July 5, 2010

By The Numbers

I've been retired for more than 3 years. Been Cora's mentor for more than 2 years. Been married with My Beloved for almost 11 years. Been living in this house for more than 13 years. Been living in California about 14 years. Been on this beautiful Earth for 63 years and happily counting.

Been blogging more or less daily for nearly 4 years.

This is post 1,000.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hot Dog!

Hot dogs, especially good, charcoal-grilled hot dogs, striped, blistered and even a little bit charred by the grill, always remind me of Ted's Hot Dogs in Buffalo, NY. I was thinking about them just the other day and wishing I could be in line there, anticipating that first delicious bite.

At Ted's there is always a line. It moves quickly, however, as they have an assembly line that rivals a Henry Ford plant. You choose your hot dog (white hot, red hot, foot long, Polish sausage, sweet Italian, hot Italian, whatever), it is speared and added to the line of dogs being grilled over charcoal, pierced frequently so the juice runs down and comes back up as juicy smoke that flavors the food. A few minutes later, blistered and striped, they are taken off by a second cook, popped into a bun and the cook looks up expectantly for you to choose your condiments. You name it, they've got it (onions, sweet relish, dill relish, mustard, catsup, whatever). Next you decide on "Fries or rings?" from the third cook, collect your drink from the fourth guy, pay the cashier and you are off to find a picnic bench outside (if it's warm) or a table inside (if, as usual, it's cold) and finally you get that first, juicy, smoky, salty bite. Pure Buffalo heaven!

Shortly after my first husband and I moved to Rochester, NY, we were befriended by Lois and Crane McDonald, a very friendly couple from Buffalo. They had moved to Roch-cha-cha for Crane's job but their hearts were still firmly rooted in Buffalo, so they introduced us to several of Buffalo's pleasures - Bisons minor league baseball, Ted's hot dogs and Buffalo style wings, to name a just a few.

Ah, Buffalo! It has such a bad rep - freezing weather, ungodly amounts of snow, decaying factories, Love Canal, unemployment. If you drive by on the freeway, all you see is ugly and more ugly. But, when you are introduced to the true Buffalo by a native Buffalonian, you can't help but love it.

Open, friendly people, cheerfully plebian food, beautiful parks, one of the best small art museums on earth, natural beauty and, yes, ungodly amounts of snow. But, every time I go to Buffalo, something nice happens to me. Like the time I got turned around on a toll road and stopped to ask the teller for directions - she not only set me straight with a smile, she also gave me a free pass through the toll in both directions. Or the time I watched a guy ahead of me hand a bright red rose to the toll taker along with his fare, which I thought was very sweet of him - then as I drove through, the toll taker gave it to me. Say what you will about Buffalo - I'm a fan!

So, this Fourth of July, My Beloved and I will be grilling hot dogs à la Ted's, savoring memories of Buffalo and wishing our country a Happy Birthday. She's looking good for 234 year old lady with a sadly oil-soiled petticoat.

Labels: ,

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Just Plain Panzanella

Just look at that. So simple, so humble, so tasty!

Bread salad with lamb chunks, marinated artichoke quarters, ripe tomatoes and romaine.

Early in the day, I cut the bread cubes from a leftover sour baguette and left them to dry. When it was dinner time, I sautéed them lightly in olive oil in which I had softened two minced cloves of garlic. Set them aside and raised the heat and added some fresh thyme to the pan to sear bite-sized chunks of lamb steak quickly in the same pan so they were caramelized but still very pink inside. Set them aside. Piled the lettuce, tomato wedges and artichokes in a salad bowl and tossed with some balsamic vinaigrette thinned with an equal amount of lemon juice, then added the lamb, the juice from the pan and the bread to toss it all together.

Presented in a wide pasta bowl, it was hearty, chewy and filled with flavor. When the ingredients are good, food like this doesn't need to be fancy. It can be humble and simple and yet still pack a mighty delicious punch.

Labels: ,

Friday, July 2, 2010

Something Fishy

I have no idea why this dish seemed appealing to me - fish on pasta? First I read about it when Mark Bittman made it. I thought, "Huh, now that sounds interesting." Then, I happened across a similar recipe on I do like canned sardines - they are one of my guilty pleasures - but it somehow didn't seem like something I'd usually make.

However, I was intrigued enough to try it. Bittman adds capers to his, where relies simply on garlic and fresh parsley to flavor their version. Since I didn't have capers in the house... yeah, won.

This is very simple, fishy fare. All you do is drain a little oil from the can of sardines packed in olive oil (I found a brand of local, wild caught ones) and add to that some plain olive oil in which you sauté a hefty amount of garlic. When the garlic is soft, you add a cup and a half of dry white wine and boil it down by half to make a sauce, toss in the fresh parsley off the heat, add the pasta to the sauce for a few minutes before plating, split the fillets over the mound of pasta (they called for linguine; I had vermicelli) and pour over rest of the sauce. Serve with lemon wedges. One can of sardines, a tablespoon of olive oil, four cloves of garlic, 1-1/2 cups white wine, 1 cup chopped Italian parsley, a handful of pasta - that's it.

Next time I make this, as I will surely do, I will grate just a little Parmesano Reggiano over the pasta before placing the fillets. While it was good and hearty and I loved the fresh greenness of the parsley playing off the oily fish, it lacked a little je ne sais quoi that I think it needed. Still, it was interesting, in a fishy sort of way.

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Miracle Melon

This is a miraculous year for melons. Some wonderful combination of water, sunshine and day length this year has produced the very best cantaloupes I have EVER tasted.

They are so fragrant that they stop me in my tracks as I walk past a pile of them at the market and they are literally candy-sweet. I have had a melon quarter every day this week for breakfast and I plan to do so every day until melon season has passed. My Beloved likes to grind fresh pepper over his morning melon but I'm a purist - all I need is a slice and a spoon.

Even the supermarket melons are terrific this year. My market calls them Tuscan-style melons. Sliced and served with a little salty ham or prosciutto, they are too good for mere mortals - this is truly food for the gods. All you have to do is seed the melon, cut the slices, run a knife underneath to separate the skin, arrange a couple of slices on a plate and pile on fat ribbons of ham or prosciutto, as their salty flavor just enhances the sweetness of the fruit.

Nothing could be simpler and nothing could be better, in my view, than these wonderful melons. When I'm really, really old I'll be boring youngsters with my recollections of the summer of 2010, sonny boy, when the melons were, in a word, heavenly.

Labels: ,